Thursday, April 17, 2008

CHP, students simulate car crash


A mock head-on collision at San Marcos High School yesterday — complete with bloodied students trapped in two crumpled cars — stood as a stark display of the consequences of drunk driving.
Held annually by the California Highway Patrol at a local high school, the “Every 15 Minutes” program seeks to confront high school students with the realities of getting behind the wheel of a car intoxicated.

“The message is simple — to make the right choice,” CHP Officer Dan Barba said. “Don’t drive drunk or get into a car with a person who has been drinking.”
Hundreds of students watched from a short distance as several students stood sobbing at the windows of the two damaged sedans, pleading with their friends inside to wake up.
With a crackle, the loudspeakers came to life. An emergency dispatcher issued the alert: a head-on collision with injuries in the parking lot at San Marcos High School.
Minutes later, a county fire engine pulled up, its siren wailing. As firefighters began unrolling hoses and setting out rescue equipment, the battalion chief called in for an airlift helicopter.
A preliminary assessment of the victims determined one died on scene, two others suffered critical injuries and one had a minor laceration. As firefighters placed a yellow blanket over the deceased and started using hydraulic rescue equipment to pop the passenger door, a CHP officer began interviewing the driver of one car, a girl who escaped with minor injuries.
Several rescuers pulled the dead body from one car and placed it on a backboard in front of the crowd of students. Others extricated a badly injured girl, her clothes stained with blood, and loaded her into a waiting ambulance.
With the whirring blades of the rescue helicopter circling overhead, the CHP officer began conducting sobriety tests on the driver, who appeared wobbly and unable to keep her balance.
After prying off the roof of one sedan, paramedics removed the final victim and sped her off to the waiting helicopter. Officers handcuffed the sobbing driver and placed her in a squad car.
Finally, the unmarked coroner’s van pulled up. After snapping a few quick photos of the scene, the coroner zipped the victim up in a body bag and loaded it into his van.
The crowd of students, many smiling and laughing as they arrived at the display, looked on with blankly serious faces by the time the coroner drove away.
“This is as real as we can make it,” Principal Craig Morgan told the students. “…If we affect just one or two of you, we’ve done our job.”
Throughout the day, authorities removed a student from class every 15 minutes to become one of the “living dead,” a group of students draped in black clothing with their faces painted white and trickles of blood running down their cheek or forehead.
A uniformed officer and school counselor then entered the classrooms to read each student’s obituary. Tombstones went up in a mock cemetery on campus as the death toll grew.
Today, students will gather for an assembly to witness video footage of the wreckage, an emergency room scene, and officers notifying parents of those killed in the crash, as well as the conviction and sentencing of the drunk driver.
“It will hit as close to home as possible,” Officer Barba said.
Students who participated in the program will read from letters they wrote the night before at a retreat. Members of the community and rescue crews will also address students, describing the personal effects of handling alcohol-related crashes.
Officer Barba said the annual event takes months of planning and coordination, and timing plays an important role.
“We like to do it near prom,” he said. “If we can’t, then we try for graduation. Any event where there is the possibility of drinking.”


Anonymous said...

"Students who participated in the program will read from letters they wrote the night before at a retreat."

The letters we read were written from our parents (as if we had really died. basically thier last goodbyes), not us.

Anonymous said...

I was the dead girl in San Marcos' 1991 version of this exercise, and it was one of the scariest, most powerful moments of my life - to hear my friends crying, to lie in the car while the firefighters broke it open with the Jaws of Life.... but worst of all was being zipped inside that body bag and put in the van.
I'm 33 now, but the memory is like yesterday.

Thanks for the well-written article, and thanks especially to those who continue to present this mock collision each year.